Celebrating 300 years

Letter from Spandau

Correspondence sent over a hundred years ago reveals what life was like for masonic prisoners in Ruhleben camp. Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry Diane Clements opens the archive

On 18 December 1914 an extraordinary document arrived at Freemasons’ Hall in London addressed to Sir Edward Letchworth, the Grand Secretary. It began: ‘We, the undersigned brethren, at present interned with other British civilians at the concentration camp at Ruhleben, Spandau, Germany, send hearty good wishes to the Grand Master, officers and brethren in Great Britain, hoping that we may have the pleasure soon of greeting them personally.’

Among the ‘undersigned’ was Alexander Cordiner from South Shields, master of SS Heworth, a cargo ship berthed near Hamburg when war broke out in August 1914. He was just one of more than 10,000 British nationals living, working or on holiday in Germany who were interned by the German government as enemy aliens. 

Many were taken to the Ruhleben camp at Spandau, west of Berlin. The camp was situated on a racecourse with barracks built in and around the stables to house the 4,000-5,000 internees. Ruhleben was run by the inmates who quickly established a church, library, sports and social clubs, a postal service and camp magazine. 

The letter was written by Walter P Goodall of Lodge of Freedom, No. 77, Gravesend, and accompanied a list of more than a hundred Freemasons. On 13 February 1915, he sent a second letter with another forty-five names. Together, they detailed Freemasons who were members of lodges in England, Australia, Egypt, Hong Kong, Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, South America, the United States, the West Indies and even Germany. 

In August 1915 another internee, Percy Hull, wrote to Grand Lodge to advise that there were now about two hundred Freemasons there, the majority receiving few if any food parcels. His letter helped to launch a campaign to support the internees. Alfred Robbins, President of the Board of General Purposes, welcomed the formation of what became known as the Ruhleben Fund, stating: ‘They are prisoners of war only in the sense of being detained during wartime; and their case is particularly hard because their businesses have been ruined and they and their families brought near to destitution.’

Parcels of support

The Fund enabled parcels to be sent every fortnight, which provided each masonic internee with three parcels over an eighteen-month period. Grand Lodge approached Sir Richard Burbidge, the managing director of Harrods, Knightsbridge, and parcels were sent to Percy Hull for distribution. One internee, S F Sheasby, reported in 1917 to the Old Masonians Gazette that they contained tea, coffee, cake, biscuits, potted meat and oats. By December 1917, more than £6,700 had been received for the Ruhleben Fund, the equivalent of about £250,000 today. 

Three of the internees at Ruhleben are remembered on a large ceramic plaque, which was originally installed in the Royal Masonic Hospital and funded by the Ruhleben internees. Charles Fryatt of Star in the East Lodge, No. 650, Harwich, was a Merchant Navy captain who was briefly sent to Ruhleben in 1916 after his ferry, SS Brussels, was captured by German destroyers. 

Fryatt had successfully defended two of his ships from German U-boat attacks a year earlier and had been rewarded for his actions with gold watches from both his employers, the Great Eastern Railway Company and The Admiralty. The latter watch was inscribed: ‘Presented by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to Chas. Algernon Fryatt Master of the SS Brussels in recognition of the example set by that vessel when attacked by a German submarine on March 28th, 1915.’  This inscription was used as an excuse by the German authorities to try Fryatt at a court martial and subsequently execute him.

The second name is that of Edward Russell, a merchant seaman and member of the Earl of Yarborough Lodge, No. 2770, in Grimsby who died of natural causes in the camp in December 1917. The third name is that of Alexander Cordiner, the SS Heworth master and a member of St Hilda’s Lodge, No. 240, South Shields, who had been at Ruhleben since late 1914 and died there in March 1918. The plaque is now on display at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry in Freemasons’ Hall, Great Queen Street.

Letters to the Editor - No. 30 Summer 2015

Ruhleben remembered

Sir,

I was interested to read the article in the spring issue of Freemasonry Today about Ruhleben camp. My grandfather, John Clegg Fergusson, was a master dyer. He left Batley in the West Riding of Yorkshire with his wife and son, Alex, in the mid 1890s and settled in Germany where he was manager of the dye house in a textile mill, and was joined by his apprentice from Batley, Clifford Leach.

On the outbreak of war, my grandfather and Clifford Leach were detained in Ruhleben camp as ‘guests of the Kaiser’ – enemy aliens. It was decided to allow my grandmother and her two younger children to travel home. My grandfather was eventually repatriated in 1916 but the story did not stop there. 

Clifford Leach, my father and his brother were all to become members of Trafalgar Lodge, No. 971, in Batley. Clifford Leach’s son, Harry, followed his father into the textile industry and when he was a member of a lodge in Manchester I visited him there, and he made the journey across the Pennines to visit my mother lodge in Morley.

Harry’s death a few years ago brought an end to a friendship between the Leach family and the Fergussons that had lasted for over a century, a friendship in which both Ruhleben camp and Freemasonry played a part.

James Fergusson, Lodge of Integrity, No. 380, Leeds, Yorkshire, West Riding


Sir,

I greatly enjoyed your article by Diane Clements, ‘Letter from Spandau’, in the spring issue. I wish that I had known it was to appear as I could have supplied a little more information. 

You may be interested to know that the Percy Hull mentioned went on to become Sir Percy, knighted for his efforts in resurrecting the Three Choirs Festival after World War II. During Hull’s internment, Dr George Robertson Sinclair (see ‘Elgar Connection’, p9 in the same issue), Grand Organist and Organist of Hereford Cathedral, died suddenly and Hull, at that time his assistant, was appointed in his place. 

Not only did Sir Percy follow Sinclair into the cathedral post, he also followed him as Grand Organist. I had the honour of conducting the cathedral choir at the dedication of his memorial in the cathedral as well as the Herefordshire Orchestral Society, in which Lady Hull played.

Robert Green, Cantilupe Lodge, No. 4083, Hereford, Herefordshire

Diane Clements, Director of The Library and Museum of Freemasonry, responds: 

Several people have mentioned Percy Hull’s later career. We have such limited space in Freemasonry Today that we are not able to develop articles as fully as possible but I appreciate all the information readers provide.

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The Poppy through history

Start March 4, 2015 6:00 pm 
End March 4, 2015 6:45 pm

Dr Nicholas Saunders, the author of a recent book about the history of the poppy, will be talking about how the poppy became such a powerful symbol at the end of the First World War. There will also be an opportunity to view the current Library and Museum exhibition Freemasonry and the First World War

The talk will last approximately 45 minutes. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance. Please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to book a place

Venue: Freemasons' Hall, London
Tel: 020 7395 9257

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Local heroes

Masonic records are providing unique insights into the people who fought in the Great War

Lodge and chapter records are a rich source of information for Freemasonry and social history, and the period of World War I is no exception. 

John Horace Marsden, a local brewer, had been installed as Master of Scarsdale Lodge, No. 681, in Chesterfield in January 1913. The lodge minutes for October 1914 record that he, and another member of the lodge, attended for the last time prior to leaving the town with their regiment. Marsden never returned. Described as a man of ‘indomitable pluck’, he was killed on the Western Front in April 1917.

Saint Augustine’s Lodge, No. 1941, in Staffordshire was just one of many lodges that found itself welcoming new members from local army camps. In many cases, these new members were from overseas. In October 1917 the installation of Canadian businessman and philanthropist William Perkins Bull as Master of Elstree Lodge, No. 3092, in Hertfordshire, was attended by a great gathering of ‘Canadian officers in khaki’. 

While many lodges have records of members’ war service, several have contacted the Library and Museum to check details of any casualties in their lodge. The key source for this is the Roll of Honour published in 1921, which details the brethren who fell in the service of their King and country during World War I. It lists all the names alphabetically and also under each lodge. There are several copies available in the Library and Museum. 

The membership registers give, in many cases, a date of death. With this information it is possible to check the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission online and ascertain where the man is buried or remembered. This can give an idea of where he fought, even without pursuing detailed military records. 

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Tuesday, 21 October 2014 10:36

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

20th Century Fox's latest film is Night at the Museum 3, which has many scenes in London including at the British Museum. It will be in cinemas around Christmas. 

The Library and Museum of Freemasonry is taking part in a promotion for this film in conjunction with the other museums in the area which form part of Museum Mile. The promotion focuses on a trail round the museums during which participants have to note hieroglyphs or symbols found on an pop-up stand at each site. The star prize is a trip to Los Angeles for the US premier of the film. Find out more here!

As the promotion is aimed at family visitors, its focus will be on the half term weeks from 17th-31st October.  

The Library and Museum has also produced a trail around the museum in conjunction with this promotion. It is available to all visitors. 

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Free talk at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry

Sir Alfred Robbins: Prime Minister of Freemasonry and the First World War

Thursday 2nd October 2014 
6–7.30pm 
Freemasons’ Hall, London

Dr Paul Calderwood will talk about Sir Alfred Robbins and his role in Grand Lodge from 1913 to his death, looking in particular at the impact of the First World War. 

The evening will include a private view of the new Library and Museum exhibition on Freemasonry and the First World War which opens in September 2014. 

Wine will be served.

Free but please reserve your place by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Wednesday, 10 September 2014 01:00

Pro Grand Master's address - September 2014

Quarterly Communication

10 September 2014 
An address by the MW the Pro Grand Master Peter Lowndes

Brethren, at the Quarterly Communication held on the second of September 1914, one hundred years ago, the First World War had been underway for just under a month. Thinking back to that time, your predecessors would have known that, even in that short time, the German Army had already defeated the Russian forces at the Battle of Tannenberg and the French and British armies were in fierce contact with the German advance in the South of Belgium.

That Quarterly Communication was presided over by Sir Frederick Halsey as Deputy Grand Master as the then Grand Master, HRH the Duke of Connaught and the Pro Grand Master, Lord Ampthill were away serving their country. 

Sir Frederick, in proposing the motion that ‘Grand Lodge expresses the deep appreciation of the loyal and devoted service now being rendered to our country by HRH the MW Grand Master, the MW Pro Grand Master, and very many other Brethren of all ranks in the Craft, and its earnest prayer for their continued well-being’, went on to say – amongst other things – that it was a time of great anxiety and that every Grand Officer would carry out their work without panic and alarm and show that calmness and confidence which animates the breast of every Englishman and mason.

He added, ‘our hearts go out to our friends and relations, to our dear ones, both in the Craft and outside it, who are now serving their country at the call of duty; our prayers follow them, and we trust that before long, in the mercy of the Great Architect of the Universe, they may emerge from this present struggle safe and sound’.

Sadly over 3,300 masons, serving in the four fighting services Army, Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Flying Corps never made it home. This fine building was created as a peace memorial dedicated to them and I trust you will have all seen the magnificent memorial window at the end of the vestibules beyond those doors and which have been recently restored thanks to the generosity of London Lodges and Chapters as well as individuals coordinated by Metropolitan Grand Stewards’ Chapter, and below it, the bronze shrine containing the Roll of Honour parchment scroll honouring those who made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives in the service of their country. We should not forget that many sons and grandsons of members were killed – many of whom would have been potential members.

The Library and Museum at Freemasons’ Hall has an exhibition entitled, ‘English Freemasonry and the First world War’ starting next week and which will go on until the beginning of March next year. This major exhibition tells the story of the organisation and members during the First World War and, for example, it explores how lodges coped with members being called up to fight. 

Brethren, brotherly love remains as important in today’s world as it did in those dark days of great anxiety in the First World War. To exercise kindness, tolerance and charitable support – and to feel deeply interested in the welfare of others – is a source of the greatest happiness and satisfaction in every situation in life. It is, I believe, of the utmost importance today to ensure our long term survival but I am concerned that we are, surprisingly, not always seen internally as a caring organisation with junior members too often marginalised and unsupported. This must change and it is the responsibility of every member to help to retain those of integrity within their Lodges by making them feel included and cared for. By so doing we will ensure that they will gain the same fulfilment and satisfaction from their masonry that we have all been lucky enough to enjoy.

Published in Speeches

Garibaldi descendant comes to London

In June, the Library and Museum of Freemasonry held a private view of its exhibition Garibaldi in London, which was attended by members of the Italian community in London, including representatives of the Mazzini-Garibaldi Club and British-Italian Society. The guest of honour was Anita Garibaldi, the great granddaughter of General Garibaldi. Guests were entertained by the Tricolore Theatre Company, which performed a re-enactment of part of Garibaldi’s visit. 

The exhibition ran from 19 May to 29 August.

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Faces  to names

The extensive photographic collection at the Library and Museum adds another perspective on the history of the Craft and its members

Whether in the form of paintings, engravings, prints or photographs, the Library and Museum has a wealth of images of people. Over recent years, these have been catalogued online, with captivating biographies of many individuals, including details of their masonic careers. 

The online catalogue now has details for over 2,700 images – including those in albums of photographs. Enquirers can request digital copies of images they are interested in and many are available for inclusion in lodge or chapter histories and presentations. The three images here all relate to the period of World War I. 

Sir Francis Lloyd, shown above, in his army uniform, was a career soldier. In World War I he commanded the Territorial Forces in the London District. He was also active in Freemasonry, serving as the Master of the City of London National Guard Lodge, No. 3757, in 1916. 

Ladislas Aurele de Malczovich was a Hungarian civil servant who became a member of the English research lodge, Quatuor Coronati Lodge, No. 2076, and published articles in its Transactions. 

As one of many ‘alien enemy brethren’, he was excluded from membership of his English lodges during World War I. The back of his photograph is inscribed to his friend, Frederick Crowe – a noted masonic collector. 

In June 1919, an Especial Grand Lodge was held at the Royal Albert Hall to celebrate the end of the war. Among the audience of over 8,000 were many overseas representatives. The formal meeting was one of many hosted by London lodges, including a visit to the Houses of Parliament where the photograph, top right, was taken.

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Fraught with fate

Diane Clements, Director of the Library and Museum of Freemasonry, considers the impact of the outbreak of World War I on the Craft in England

Britain entered World War I on 4 August 1914. When the Grand Lodge held its regular Quarterly Communications less than a month later on 2 September, French and British armies had delayed the German advance in the south of Belgium, but their success at the first Battle of the Marne was still uncertain. Alfred Robbins, the President of the Board of General Purposes, later described the atmosphere at that meeting as being fraught with fate. ‘Not only for the British Empire and her Allies, but for all that English masons held dear,’ he wrote. ‘Darkness was descending on many a soul.’ 

Disrupted meetings

Calls for lodges to stop meeting were dismissed by the Grand Lodge, but two of them with the closest German links, Pilgrim Lodge, No. 238, and Deutschland Lodge, No. 3315, both ceased to meet for the duration of the war. Members of both lodges had been faced with the provisions of wartime legislation that had given ‘enemy aliens’ a matter of days to leave the country and forced all those remaining to register with the police. The activities of other lodges were disrupted as members, including the Pro Grand Master, Lord Ampthill, went to fight or became involved in the conflict. 

By mid-September 1914, Lord Charles Beresford Lodge, No. 2404, based in Chatham in Kent, had all its two hundred and fifty members serving while forty-three of the forty-five members of Alma Lodge, No. 3534, in Hounslow, whose members were drawn from the Royal Fusiliers, rejoined for war service. The lodge meeting scheduled for September 1914 didn’t take place and the lodge members weren’t to meet again until 1918.

Other lodges were forced to move out of their meeting places as buildings across the country were requisitioned. Several London lodges were forced to move from De Keyser’s Royal Hotel on the Victoria Embankment when it was requisitioned for the Military Aeronautics Directorate. The Lodge of Faith and Unanimity, No. 417, in Dorchester gave its hall to the Dorset County Hospital for use by wounded soldiers and met elsewhere. In May 1915, the lodge protested at their premises being used for ‘contagious and infectious diseases, or for enemy aliens’ and held the hospital accountable for ‘disinfecting, re-decorating, and rendering the lodge’, but it was able to return to its hall in January 1918.

An estimated 200,000 refugees arrived in Britain from Belgium, displaced by the war. The Grand Lodge made an immediate initial donation of £1,000, the equivalent of more than £40,000 today, to the Belgian Relief Fund. The returning refugees were dispersed across the country. Some were sent to Nottingham where they were housed in Chaucer Street properties that had been purchased shortly before the war for the site of a new masonic hall. Funds were regularly raised for them at Provincial meetings until they were repatriated in 1919.

A £1,000 donation was made to the British Red Cross Society, where Sir Arthur Stanley, Provincial Grand Master of Lancashire, Western Division, was chairman of the executive committee. 

A ladies committee is born

With many businesses closing down or reducing their activity at the outbreak of war, there were fewer employment opportunities for single women as servants and secretaries. When the Queen’s Work for Women Fund was established, the Grand Lodge requested that the wife of the Pro Grand Master, Lady Ampthill, form a Ladies Committee to raise contributions for the Fund from the wives and daughters of Freemasons. An impressive £2,001 was raised. This was presented to Queen Mary in March 1915, with the funds divided between several bodies providing training and support for women.

Women soon began to replace men in clerical and manufacturing roles as the war continued, especially after the introduction of conscription in 1916, and the need for the Fund was much reduced.

Many organisations and communities established Rolls of Honour in the early months of the war. These were originally intended to record the names of those who had volunteered, but they also quickly became a record of casualties. The idea of a Masonic Roll of Honour was first considered by the Grand Lodge at its meeting in December 1914, its second meeting after the outbreak of war. 

Documents sent by the Grand Lodge to lodge secretaries asked for the name, military rank and masonic rank of brethren known to have died. The first list appeared in the 1916 Masonic Year Book – it was thirty pages long with five hundred names. 

The Library and Museum has a new, free temporary exhibition called English Freemasonry and the First World War, which opens on Monday, 15 September 2014 and runs until Friday, 15 May 2015. A richly illustrated book to coincide with the exhibition has been published and is available from Letchworth’s Shop at Freemasons’ Hall, priced £15.

Published in Features

New exhibition

English Freemasonry and the First World War at the Library and Museum of Freemasonry

Start: September 15, 2014 10:00 am

When Britain declared war on 4th August 1914, English Freemasonry faced unprecedented circumstances. Freemasonry was and is non-political, and the discussion of politics at masonic meetings was and is forbidden, but during this period the United Grand Lodge of England, the governing body for Freemasonry in England and Wales and across much of the British Empire, had to deal with the impact of global war.

This major new exhibition will examine the effect of the First World War on freemasons in England, on those fighting on the Western Front and elsewhere and on Freemasons held as prisoners of war. The war created new, war-related charitable causes for which Freemasons raised funds, prompted a response from the established masonic charities and fostered the formation of a major new masonic charity in the post war period.

Freemasons’ Hall in Great Queen Street in London, completed in 1933, was dedicated to the Freemasons that died in the war. It was one of many different types of memorials created by Freemasons. The end of the war saw a significant increase in membership of masonic lodges and geographical expansion which created new challenges for the Grand Lodge.

Amongst the objects, images and documents on display will be lodge fittings created from appropriated war materiel, souvenirs from freemasonry on the front line and diaries kept by masonic prisoners of war. Charitable giving is recorded in programmes and publications and amongst the many types of memorials on view will be medals and books.

In September 2014 the Library and Museum is publishing a richly illustrated book to coincide with the exhibition called English Freemasonry and the First World War. The book draws on the extensive collections held by the Library and Museum. The book will be available from Letchworths Shop, cost £15.

Find out more: http://www.freemasonry.london.museum/events/english-freemasonry-first-world-war/ 

The Library and Museum is a member of the First World War Centenary Partnership.

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